OPINION29 September 2009

Tilting at Crowdmills

Forbes writer Dan Woods wormed his way into the heart of the crowd. He was shocked to find out what was allowed.

“A misplaced faith in the crowd is a blow to the image of the heroic inventor” writes Dan Woods for Forbes in an angry article taking a swing at ‘crowdsourcing’. http://www.forbes.com/2009/09/28/crowdsourcing-enterprise-innovation-technology-cio-network-jargonspy.htmlI put the word in scare quotes because it’s very much Woods’ own idea of crowdsourcing that’s at stake here, not so much the thing as she is actually done. Because the “winning” ideas in crowdsourced work come from individuals, Woods argues, saying they’re the product of a ‘crowd’ is meaningless. This is certainly an arguable point, but we’re entering the area of semantics here: crowdsourcing is what a particular process has become known as. The kind of examples Woods gives used to be known as “open innovation” and I’m guessing that term would suit him better.The principles of this stuff aren’t new. They’re so not-new that we’ve got proverbs about them: “Two heads are better than one”; “Many hands make light work”; “Too many cooks spoil the broth”. Each of these sayings – positive or negative – is describing particular kinds of collaborative effects. What’s happening now is simply that tools are emerging which let us scale up the good effects, avoid the bad ones, and turn them into processes a lot more easily.There is a conversation to be had – indeed, it’s already going on – about the economic value of ideas, and whether open innovation and open design programs reward the people who have good ones. The Forbes piece works as a romantic call to arms perhaps, but in the contest of that wider conversation it’s a blast from the past.


1 Comment

11 years ago

Has there been a confusion between open innovation - where the contribution of experts is central and essential - and predictive markets, where the crowd is genuinely more accurate than the expert individual? The two operate in completely different contexts, but you can see how the confusion might have arisen.

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